Thursday, August 22, 2013

"Now They're All Dead": Threats of Assassination to Human Rights Advocates in Haiti

Mark Snyder, Beverly Bell and Alexis Erkert, Toward Freedom
August 21, 2013

"Those before you were strong. Now they're all dead. Stop what you are doing, or the same will happen to you."

Those were the words delivered to Frena Florvilus, Director of Education and Advocacy of the Haitian human rights organization Defenders of the Oppressed (DOP), early on the morning of August 11 by one of four unidentified men who attempted to enter DOP's office. The threat echoed numerous others that have been leveled against the DOP office and its staff since they took on the case of a young man who died in police custody within hours of his April 15 arrest, his body left covered with bruises and wounds inflicted by a severe beating. DOP has also been targeted for its work to support displaced peoples who face violent eviction from their camps, by the government and private landowners who are determined to rid the country of camps. Never mind that the people, homeless since the January 2010 earthquake, have nowhere else to go. [...]

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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Standoff in the strawberry fields

By David Bacon, AlJazeera America
August 19, 2013

In July, Washington berry pickers went on strike. A week after their return, farm owners brought in H2A guest workers

BURLINGTON, Wash. — Over a tense two-week period in July, at the peak of the summer harvest season, almost 250 workers at the $6.1 million Sakuma Brothers strawberry and blueberry farm — one of the largest in Washington state — went on strike twice. Workers fought with the farm’s owners over wages, overtime pay, alleged racist treatment and conditions in their housing camp. They won concessions but lost on most of their monetary demands. With few resources left, they returned to the fields.

Sakuma Brothers Farms could afford to play hardball because it had an ace in the hole: It had been certified to bring 160 new workers from Mexico under the restrictive H2A guest-worker program. And the lower wages mandated for guest workers under U.S. immigration law proved to be the limit not just for the H2A workers but also for all the other pickers at the company. [...]

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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A Grocery Boycott Resumes in Brooklyn

by David L. Wilson, Grassroots Solidarity
August 14, 2013

[This article is also available at:]

“Welcome back,” community organizer Lucas Sánchez called out to some 35 demonstrators in front of a small supermarket in Brooklyn’s Kensington neighborhood the afternoon of August 10. “It’s as if we never left,” he added with a smile.

The Saturday rally, announced just two days before, marked the resumption of a consumer boycott at the Golden Farm grocery store in support of Latino produce workers currently in negotiations with the shop’s owner, Sonny Kim. Kensington residents and local labor rights activists started the boycott one year earlier, in August 2012, but suspended it last March at the urging of the workers’ union, Local 338 RWDSU/UFCW, in the hope that this would advance the contract talks.

“We lifted the boycott so Mr. Kim could negotiate in good faith,” Sánchez, who works for the advocacy organization New York Communities for Change (NYCC), told the group of supporters, which included the area’s City Council member, Brad Lander, and a Brooklyn state senator, Eric Adams. But after five months management is still refusing to budge on demands for higher pay, job security, and paid sick days, holidays and vacations, according to the union.

This time the consumer action will continue until the workers have won their contract, Occupy Kensington member Eleanor Rodgers announced as the crowd applauded. “Sonny Kim needs to understand that last time, when we suspended the boycott,” she said, “that was his last chance.”

The Golden Farm struggle may just involve a handful of workers in an out-of-the-way Brooklyn neighborhood, but speaker after speaker stressed that it was part of a large and growing movement of low-wage workers. “Forty-four grocery stores are organizing in Brooklyn,” Sánchez said. “Hundreds of car wash workers are organizing around the city, and thousands of fast food workers are organizing around the country. People are saying it’s time to rise up.”

For decades U.S. labor unions tended to view these workers as too difficult to organize: most are employed in small, isolated shops, and many are vulnerable to employer threats because of problems with their immigration status. Council member Lander commended the courage and dedication of the Golden Farm workers, immigrants who started organizing themselves in December 2010. Since then they have won a raise—to minimum wage—and a back-pay settlement; in September 2012 their efforts resulted in the National Labor Relations Board’s certification of Local 338 as their union.

The struggle gained special emotional resonance when 34-year-old Golden Farm worker and union supporter Félix Trinidad died of stomach cancer in July 2012; unable to get paid sick leave, he had continued to work 12-hour shifts while undergoing chemotherapy.

But Senator Adams emphasized that despite their admirable courage, low-wage workers need the sort of support the Golden Farm workers have been getting in Kensington.

Occupy Kensington’s Rodgers, who has lived in the neighborhood for six years, estimates that the earlier seven-month boycott cut Sonny Kim’s business by about 30%. Was she optimistic about prospects for restarting the campaign? “I’m not just optimistic, I’m absolutely certain we can do it,” she said. But she was less certain that they would win. For one thing, Rodgers suspects that Kim has been stalling as the September 20 anniversary of the union’s certification approaches. After that management can push for a decertification vote.

Kensington residents are mostly working-class or lower-middle-class. Many are immigrants, with no one ethnic or social group predominating: the awning at Golden Farm advertises “Russian, Ukrainian, Polish, Turkish, Israeli, kosher, organic, gourmet food.” There’s plenty of sympathy for the Latino workers, who live in the community. But the supermarket’s low prices, variety of food types, and convenient location near the subway on Church Avenue make it attractive to consumers. As in many New York grocery stores, the cashiers, the workers that shoppers interact with most, are not Latino and are less likely to support the union.

Rodgers, herself an immigrant from Northern Ireland, says Kim has tried to play on potential divisions, depicting the boycott as the work of “outsiders.” At the rally she called for neighborhood people to staff the picket lines on weekend afternoons and in the evenings on weekdays. “We aren’t NYCC, we aren’t the union,” she insisted. “We live here.”

For all the difficulties they face, labor rights supporters were in good spirits as they started the first picket line of the renewed boycott. Drivers on Church Avenue regularly honked in support when they saw the picketers’ signs.

Laura Castro, a schoolteacher and one of the Kensington residents on the line, admitted that the neighborhood was polarized over the boycott but said she was hopeful that most people would back the workers. She’d observed a change in the political climate over the last few years, she explained. “It’s surprising how much feeling there is out in the community about depressed wages, about unions being dismantled. The big media aren’t telling us about this.”

David L. Wilson is co-author, with Jane Guskin, of The Politics of Immigration: Questions and Answers, Monthly Review Press, July 2007. He also co-edits Weekly News Update on the Americas, a summary of news from Latin America and the Caribbean.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Viva la Huelga! The Agricultural Strike at Sakuma Brothers Farms and the Tradition of Oaxacan Resistance

By Brendan Maslauskas Dunn, MRzine
July 25, 2013

Strike Heats Up as Over 200 Immigrant Workers Are Threatened with Mass Firing

July 24, 2013

As workers walked past fields of strawberries and blueberries into a negotiation meeting this morning with Sakuma Brothers Farms, Inc. management, they were told to accept management's terms or lose their jobs. This threat comes amidst a heated strike of over 200 immigrant farm workers at the Burlington, WA farm which is just north of Seattle. It is the second strike the workers initiated in the last two weeks over a list of demands over wages, dignity, and respect.

The strike started after the firing of farm worker Federico Lopez on July 10th. Lopez and his coworkers believed he was targeted for bringing up grievances with his superiors. Some of the workers were listening to an interview of Rosalinda Guillen on a Spanish-language radio show on a local radio station. They decided that they wanted her to assist them with their struggle at Sakuma Brothers Farms. [...]

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